My First Hat - A Truncated Hennin

Adapted from the "Portrait of a Young Girl" by Petrus Christus

This is the first draft of my article. When it is done, I hope to include diagrams for each step of this hat's construction. I will also include pictures of my finished hennin. At that time, I will probably split this page into two sections - one covering the construction of the framework, and the other covering the finishing work

Our Burgundian project had us studying various aspects of Burgundian life. As a scribe, it influenced the style of some of my scrolls. Overall, however, my goal was to re-create a Burgundian person from the paintings I looked at. The dress was a wonderful challenge and, while it was "finished" for our event, I feel it needs more work.

The hat, however, is my pride and joy. I must begin by telling you that I have never made a hat before. I hadn't even the slightest idea what to do, never mind how to make a hennin stand upright! From the start, I wanted to make a truncated hennin (somehow, I just couldn't envision myself wearing a full hennin). I wanted it to be a moderately tall truncated hennin - not too short but not overbearing. I found the perfect hennin in a painting of a young girl by Petrus Christus (formerly a student of Jan van Eyck). This picture was in a book suggested by Mistress Elizabeth Talbot called: "The History of Dress Series" "Late Gothic Europe, 1400-1500" by Margaret Scott. It is unfortunately out of print but can be found via inter-library loan. It’s a fabulous resource for this era!

The hennin in that portrait appears to be black with a "sash" or "belt" of some sort which encircles the hat and head from the top of the hat to under the wearer's chin. The picture I had at hand of the painting is somewhat dark so I’m not certain just how opaque that sash is, what it’s made of or how it’s specifically constructed. I guessed and used black satin circling under my chin to the top of the hat and pinned at the very top of the hennin. Other than that, there are no apparent veils. I made my hennin covered in black velvet trimmed with a fine woven gold trim and 3mm seed pearls that I applied by hand to enhance the pattern of the trim.

The question of structure perplexed me until I happened to be talking about the event with Countess Morgen (then Queen). It turned out she had made a truncated hennin before! She explained to me how she built hers and, during Pennsic, let me borrow hers to look at - to get the "feel" of it. I now had the magic word "buckram" and a fair idea of how the hat should stand, feel and balance. Her information and loan of that hennin were invaluable to my effort. Suddenly, pieces of the puzzle started falling into place.

By the way, in constructing the hat frame, in most places where I mentioned I glued something together, you can sew them if you prefer and if you have more time. The outer fabric covering of the hat and the lining were sewn - some parts by machine, some by hand.

  1. Use a piece of brown craft paper and make an open cone to fit your head. This will be the pattern for your hennin. Make sure the bottom of the cone rests comfortably where you will want to have the hennin lie. Make it snug but not too tight. With small pieces of tape, hold the cone and adjust the slope of the sides and front until you’re comfortable with the way it sits on your head. Trim it to the height you want your hennin to be (mine was approximately 10 inches). Undo the tape and even out your cut lines and try it on again just to make sure you are happy with the way it looks.

  2. Measure the top and bottom of the cone to obtain the measure for the two re-enforcing wire circles you will make to shape the hennin. I used a wire hanger but you can use any stiff wire that you can manipulate. Even though you will be using very stiff buckram to give it shape, the wire top and bottom really give the hennin a very sturdy feel and help it keep its shape nicely as well as relatively crush-proof. The bottom wire will be like a circlet that fits your head where the hennin will rest. The top wire will be a smaller version of that, fitting the size of the pattern you just made. Try to shape the top similarly to the bottom circlet. If your head shape is oval, make the top oval to match. If your head is rounder, match that. In order to avoid wrapping wire to close my circles, I used cloth tape to hold the ends of the wire together.

    * NOTE: In my procedure, I did not include the little “ v “ shaped wire "handle" as part of the makeup of my frame. Ideally, I should have fashioned the lower circlet with that wire "triangle" attached to it structurally or as part of its integral shape. Keep this in mind if you make one. You may want to make this handle a part of your hat's skeleton and not just ornamental as it is on mine. If you do so, make sure you encase that “V” shape in whatever fabric you’re using for the outside of your hat (mine was black velvet) before you ever attach the buckram to the circlet. This will make life much easier. *

  3. I decided that I wanted at least two layers of buckram to shape my hat. If it had been a taller hennin, I might have even had more layers than that. Cut one layer of buckram using your pattern leaving a seam allowance. I used a 3/4 inch seam allowance. The second layer, I cut without any seam allowance. This one will be your inside layer and will fit inside the other one. Trace the circlet you made for the top of the hennin on buckram - again two layers (one with seam allowance and one without) to reinforce the top. I placed a small dot of glue in the center of the smaller circle to fasten it to the larger one

  4. Put the buckram cone together with glue (I used a hot glue for speed and strength). The inner layer (without the seam allowance) just rests inside the outer layer (with seam allowance). This way, the inner layer gives the sides of the hat added strength without creating more bulky seam overlaps.

  5. This done, attach the wire circles to the buckram to finish your “frame”. Make sure you cut notches in the top and bottom seam allowance all around the buckram outer layer so it will be easy to place the circles within and then just turn the notches in to hold them. First, insert the small circlet that will reinforce the top of your truncated hennin. Starting from the bottom of the hat, push the circlet up to the top to just where the seam goes. Make sure it’s level - this will decide how level the top of your hat is! - and fold in the buckram over the wire. Tack in place with glue (again, I used hot glue for speed) or sew. For the bottom reinforcement, place the larger circlet that goes there inside the bottom seam allowance and fold the buckram in. Glue or sew to secure.

  6. After you’ve fastened both metal circlets to their respective parts of the buckram form, you must add the buckram circles you cut to reinforce the top of the truncated hennin. With the “outside” circle (the one with the notched seam allowance) on top, push them levelly up through the inside of the hat to the top. This will place your seam allowance smoothly inside of the cone. After carefully positioning the top making sure everything is level and smooth, apply glue to the notches and gently press them to the inside of the buckram cone.

    Again, wherever I used hot glue, I you can sew instead. I was pressed for time and figuring things out as I went along.

    Now the frame is complete. There! The hardest part is over! All you need now is the outer covering and the lining. Do not rush this now. While this is the easier portion, it is also the visible portion and you will want everything to look carefully finished and clean.

  7. Use the same patterns you used for the buckram to cut your outer covering and lining, leaving a 3/4” seam allowance on each, notching the curved edges as well.

  8. Cover the flat top of the hennin with the circular piece. Glue or sew the notched edges smoothly around the sides of the hat.

  9. This done, sew the back seam of your outer covering for the hennin - it will look like a sleeve of sorts.

  10. Turn it right-side out and place the wide bottom edge over the top of the buckram frame. Slide this sleeve all the way down leaving only the top seam allowance sticking out over the edge of the buckram top & bottom. Adjust the covering very carefully to make sure your back seam is straight and everything is lying smoothly on its buckram frame.

  11. Carefully, fold in and tuck in the notched pieces of this top seam allowance to form a smooth join with the top of the hat. You might need something to help you tuck these notches in. I used the point of a crochet needle.

  12. When everything is fitted smoothly, sew this seam with very small stitches for a finished seam. This is not a structural process but a cosmetic one. You want to make sure the top of your hat is smoothly fitted and stays that way. At the bottom, I used a little hot glue to tack the notched velvet carefully inside over the wire edge of the buckram frame. Only very little glue is needed here.

  13. The lining was sewn together entirely before I ever put it inside the hat. Essentially, it looked like a soft version of the hat turned inside out (so that, when you place it INSIDE the hat, the "right" side will be facing you when you look into the hat and the raw edges will be flush to the buckram). I put in a couple of dabs of glue inside the hat before putting the lining in to hold it in place. One can also sew it to tack it in place. It's a good idea to hem the bottom of your lining before you insert it for a finished edge.

  14. Then sew the hemmed edge to the inside edge of the hat with small stitches to finish off neatly.

  15. Added to the lining, (another suggestion from Countess Morgen) were four little loops of fabric attached just inside the bottom of the lining. These are very handy if one wants to secure the hat firmly onto one's head. A hairpin through the loop and through your hair does a nice job of it. I have not used those loops yet - I have been exceedingly lucky in that my hat fits me very well and hasn't tried to fall off of my head!.....yet. I have also not been caught in high winds, which would probably be the "true test".

  16. *Lastly (because I had forgotten this detail until the end), I created a small "V" shape with a piece of wire hanger. I sewed a velvet covering for it and attached this to the front inside of my hat, leaving about an inch of the "V" showing. Reminder: If you incorporated that little “V” in your frame (on the lower circlet) from the beginning, then make sure you encase it in velvet before you even attach the buckram to the circlets. **This is the little detail we see in paintings. I do not specifically know its function, but it is suggested in many of the texts I read that this may have been used as a "handle" to re-position the hat on one's head if it shifted or slipped. It makes sense to me since I have used it (even though mine is not structurally a part of my hat's frame) to shift the hat a little here and there. However, I find it easier to shift the hat by grasping the bottom of it - yet another plus for using the wire reinforcements. Never ever try to shift a hennin by grasping the sides or top. The buckram is stiff but it will crush under too much strain and, even though it may bounce back, it may never look as smooth as it did before.

  17. If you wish to re-create the hat I made, you then need to make a sash of fabric which will fit loosely around from the top of your hat to the bottom of your chin. Make it of something soft. This isn’t really supposed to hold your hat to your head. It’s more of a decorative feature. I sewed mine into a circle and pinned the top to the top of the hennin.

    It is perfectly acceptable to have straight pins showing on your garb, veils or hat. In those days, they were a mark of affluence as, apparently, steel straight pins were very difficult to come by.

  18. I tried to find trim that closely matched that of the painting as much as possible. What I found was a bit too plain so I used 3mm pearls to accent features in the design of the trim.

And so you have a truncated hennin! Time to make a dress to wear it with!

Please remember that I am not a hatmaker. This was a learning experiment and I certainly hope to learn to make more hats since it was such a positive experience for me. While my methods might be less polished than those of a more experienced milliner, my hennin turned out to be quite sturdy and I am thrilled with the way it looks. This is the the documentary of my first effort and, for those of you who have never tried to make one of these hats before, I hope you will find it useful. At some point I also hope to include some diagrams.

My heartfelt thanks to Mistress Elizabeth Talbot for her wonderful information and inspiration, Countess Mistress Morgen Duval for her kind explanations and patience, and Mistress Damiana Illaria D'Onde for her boundless enthusiasm and encouragement. Their support gave me the confidence to get through the project. Thanks also to Lady Deonora Ridenow for persuading me to write this account of my experience.

Author: Mistress Annastassja Diaz de Leon, OL, CoM, QOC, whose area of interest is Painting/Portraiture but is fascinated by (and hopes to someday learn more about) sewing, corsetry, millinery and jewelry crafting.


These books had either helpful text or pictures/diagrams. While I wasn’t able to use any one of them as my “bible” for this project, I found that, combined, they provided a wonderful overview of ideas, opinions and impressions that helped me form a plan.

The History of Dress Series
Late Gothic Europe, 1400-1500

by Margaret Scott, 1980
First published in Great Britain in 1980 by Mills & Boon Ltd, 15-16 Brooks Mews, London Wi.
ISBN# 0 263 06429 8
And in the USA by Humanities Press Inc., Atlantic Highlands,
NJ 07716 ISBN# 0 391 02148 6

The Mode in Costume
by R. Turner Wilcox, 1958
Charles Scribner & Sons, Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 Third Avenue, NY, NY 10022
ISBN# 0 684 13913 8

A History of Costume
by Carl Kohler, 1963
Dover Publications, Inc., 180 Varick St., NY, NY 10014
ISBN # 0 486 21030 8

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